On July 9, 2022, the New York Yankees were on top of the baseball world. At 61-23, the team looked destined to roll over the American League en route to their first World Series appearance in 13 years. Then, in the blink of an eye, the dominant goliath became the face of baseball mediocrity.
Since that fateful day, the team is 93-91 with a 101 wRC+ that ranks 15th in the league. For the 2023 season, the numbers are even worse. They’re 55-51, 47-50 against teams with winning percentages over .300. Their team wRC+ of 94 (6% worse than league average) ranks 22nd in the league, and their starter ERA of 4.50 (also 6% worse than league average) sits 18th. On top of all this, their average age of 29.6 is the oldest in the American League.
This is a mediocre baseball team through and through. Their so-called “protection” for the best hitter in baseball is the ghost of the 2015 National League All-Star team, Jake Bauers and Billy McKinney currently rank second and third on the team in wRC+, and Luis Severino has turned into arguably baseball’s worst pitcher. As Brian Cashman said about the 2016 team, the Yankees are not playoff contenders, but playoff pretenders.
Entering Tuesday’s trade deadline, it was abundantly clear the Yankees should sell. They had made it easy on the front office with their 6-9 record since the All-Star break. With that being said, the team easily could’ve sold fans on “going for it”–who doesn’t want to watch their team in the playoffs–by going out and filling the massive holes that sit in left field and third base. While I never believed this lineup was “just a bat or two away”, if they decided to buy and retool this lineup I wouldn’t have complained. Instead, they did the worst thing possible–they stood pat.
The Yankees decided to be, as Jack Curry put it, “cautious buyers”. They listened to offers on their impending free agents but, as a rival executive told Marc Carig, they were “waiting to be bowled over for their rentals”. The “big move” of the day was bringing in reliever Kenyan Middleton from the Chicago White Sox to bolster what has been baseball’s best bullpen. A team riddled with holes found a way to add to its strength. In the best seller’s market in recent memory, the Yankees chose no direction.
The Yankees somehow played every card they have as wrong as they could play it. They convinced themselves that, despite an almost 200-game sample proving their mediocrity, the team could make a run. That Aaron Judge is all a team needs to contend for a World Series and that he can carry a below-average baseball team to the promised land as is.
This deadline was a golden opportunity for the Yankees to retool, a la 2016. They could’ve shipped off their rentals and gotten solid prospects back, but they also could’ve completely hit the reset button. They could’ve moved who would’ve been the best bat on the market in Gleyber Torres–something they were very close to doing LAST year. They could’ve attempted to move on from their overpriced, prospect-blocking veterans like Anthony Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu, and Giancarlo Stanton. They even could’ve shipped off closer Clay Holmes for what would’ve been a haul. Seeing him leave would’ve hurt, but Matt Blake has proven his ability to turn coal into diamonds multiple times these past couple of years, with Holmes being an example of this prowess. They could’ve brought in some top prospects and immediately acquired a different hard-throwing sinker baller to “fix”. They could’ve then proceeded to call up top prospects like Austin Wells and Oswald Peraza, who would’ve been able to debut without pressure. But, instead, they did nothing.
The Yankees seem to have no plan. When Hal Steinbrenner told fans at the Carlos Rodon presser that the team was “not done yet”, there was no next move in mind. It was just fan service. That’s all the Yankees have become. They’re a team content with mediocrity because fans will always watch a team above .500. The seats will be filled, the “99” burgers will be sold, and the hats will be worn as long as they have the semblance of a contender.
The window that seemed so wide open after 2017 has closed. The Yankees are now in no man’s land. They are a painfully average ballclub with no true path forward to contention. They have a mediocre farm system, a mediocre lineup, and a mediocre pitching staff. And today, they punted away their chance to really retool this team. They’re going to continue trying to sell their on-field product. Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone will ensure fans that they will turn it around, and you know what, maybe they will. Maybe Stanton will remember how to hit and the team will go on a magical run. But, as Cashman says, process over results, and the Yankees’ process today was abysmal.
Everyone calls for Boone’s head, but it’s not his fault this team can’t hit. He was given a roster plagued with holes and told to go win a championship. This team is full of players Cashman has put his neck on the line for. This is Cashman’s team, and he today refused to admit he mishandled it. He doubled down on his belief in this roster, and when they miss the playoffs by a game or two, he will talk about how much they still believe these guys can “turn it around”. The team needs a complete rehaul, and if Cashman refuses to admit that, he may not be the person to lead it.